I donâ€™t know what it is about the Badlands Activities Center, but the first two football games in the completed stadium have turned out to be pretty darn good.
It was a huge win in many ways for the Blue Hawks:
They finally started the season off right. It had been five seasons since the Blue Hawks won their opening game and six since they defeated a nonconference opponent.
Thursdayâ€™s win sets DSU up to not only make a leap in the NAIA poll, it creates an opportunity for the Blue Hawks to set themselves up for a home playoff game if they win the Dakota Athletic Conference.
The past two years, nonconference losses to open the season have held the Blue Hawks back. If DSU goes on and wins the DAC again and clinches a playoff berth, Thursdayâ€™s victory is a big high point on its postseason resume â€” even if Rocky doesnâ€™t end up having a good season.
â€œI mean, itâ€™s a big confidence booster and something that we can build on,â€ DSU quarterback Cody Holland said.
Senior Herr has most meaningful game of his career
Senior Jeremy Herr entered the game the most experienced running back on DSUâ€™s team â€” and itâ€™s exactly why head coach Hank Biesiot called on him to shoulder the rushing load.
Herr had 17 carries for 78 yards and came up with two of the biggest plays of the game on the same series.
The play after Derek Pauley caught his only pass, a 24-yard leaping grab down the right sideline, Herr turned loose a 20-yard scamper up the middle to put DSU in scoring position. Two plays later, he took a screen pass from Holland and used some great up-field blocking to score the go-ahead touchdown on a 26-yard reception.
â€œIt was good to see a senior do that,â€ Biesiot said. â€œWeâ€™ve got a bunch of guys who are real close and we just went with him and that combination because he was a senior.â€
Mount Steiner big on special teams
Defensive tackle Luke Steiner had his best statistical season as a redshirt freshman, when he had 51 tackles (fourth most on the team that year).
Since then, Steiner has been used in many fashions â€” including a tight end â€” but typically does the things that donâ€™t count on stat sheets, like flushing the quarterback out of the pocket.
However, the Dickinson Trinity graduate may have made the biggest play of his career on Thursday night when he got his hands on Rockyâ€™s 35-yard, fourth-quarter field-goal attempt.
The block not only kept Rocky from going up 24-18, DSU took the opportunity and ran with it, scoring four plays later on Holland and Herrâ€™s TD hookup.
Steiner also blocked an extra point in the second quarter when he burst over Rockyâ€™s line.
Which leads me too â€¦
Derion Williams shows his moves, chinks in his armor
The senior returner/cornerback/receiver had a big day.
At halftime, I told KDIX radio announcers Rod Kleinjan and Jim Dahl, â€œDerion is going to break something tonight, somehow.â€
And he proved me right, snatching a Nathan Barnettâ€™s tipped ball out of the air and taking it 33 yards for a touchdown.
I made my statement after Williams threatened to return a couple kicks to the house. He took the opening kick to the Rocky 45-yard line, set up a three-play drive that culminated in Hollandâ€™s 6-yard TD pass to Rashad Williams by returning a kick after Rockyâ€™s first TD to the 40. After Rockyâ€™s next score, he had another huge kick return called back on an illegal block.
â€œHeâ€™s the best slow kick returner weâ€™ve probably ever had,â€ Biesiot said.
Biesiot has a point. Williams isnâ€™t super fast. But he is shifty, can switch directions on a dime and makes good decisions on whose blocks and what seams to follow.
One Rocky Mountain booster on the upper deck called him â€œDerion â€˜I should be playing at Florida Stateâ€™ Williams.â€
That may be a stretch because, like most cornerbacks, Williams didnâ€™t leave the game without some awful mistakes.
He also got burned by Rockyâ€™s spread offense more than once. Levi Sutton turned him around and caught a 33-yard TD pass that would have given Rocky a 21-18 lead at the end of the third quarter. But, the play negated on an illegal formation penalty.
He also fumbled his shortest kick return of the night at the DSU 29-yard line, which would have been devastating if Barnett hadnâ€™t dropped a TD catch in the end zone, the Blue Hawksâ€™ defense hadnâ€™t held tight and Steiner hadnâ€™t blocked the field goal.
Regardless of how he played on defense though, Williams proved that he is a threat any time he gets the ball in his hands. Thatâ€™s the reason why DSU coaches put him in at receiver a couple times when they wanted to throw the deep ball.
Jay Grosz suffers nasty injury
DSU sophomore inside linebacker Jay Grosz, who started alongside Nic Nicastro, left the game following the extra point after Rockyâ€™s first touchdown in the second quarter.
Grosz, a former Mott-Regent standout, was taken to St. Josephâ€™s Hospital after suffering what DSU staff said was a dislocated left elbow.
I couldnâ€™t tell you how it happened, all I know is that Grosz looked bad after the play. I was on the sidelines shooting photos at this time and he was clearly in shock. DSUâ€™s training staff did a great job of rushing him to the new training room next to the teamâ€™s locker room at the BAC.
Grosz and Nicastro started because senior ILB Jason Kraft was serving a one-game suspension for violation of team rules.
Itâ€™s unknown how long Grosz will be out.
Desin is the real deal
If you want to know how good Mark Desin is, just look at his high school numbers.
He threw for more than 9,500 yards and rushed for 2,000-plus yards in high school. The Rocky Mountain senior quarterback and a transfer from Montana State showed why that is Thursday night as he compiled 237 total yards, a number that would have been far higher if not for DSUâ€™s swarming defense in the second half.
Desin only made three real mistakes: he scrambled too long twice in a row, allowing Jarel Hafner to sack him for a 15-yard loss that set up Trevor Willisâ€™ sack in the end zone for a safety; and he threw a dart into traffic that ended up in the hands of DSU linebacker Zach McCoy.